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Risotto with Spring Vegetables

This simple risotto showcases the flavor of fresh peas and slender asparagus, two harbingers of spring. The rice can act as a backdrop to nearly any vegetable, from sautéed artichoke hearts to roasted winter squash to earthy wild mushrooms. Cook the vegetable partway before stirring it into the nearly finished risotto to complete the cooking.

Ingredients:

  • 1 Tbs. sea salt, plus more, to taste 
  • 1 lb. slender asparagus, tough ends removed and asparagus cut into 2-inch lengths 
  • 7 to 8 cups chicken broth  
  • 1/4 cup olive oil 
  • 1 leek, white and light green portions, halved lengthwise, sliced and rinsed well 
  • 3 cups Arborio or Carnaroli rice 
  • 1 cup dry white wine, at room temperature 
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen shelled English peas  
  • 1 Tbs. unsalted butter 
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese 
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste 

Directions:

Bring a large saucepan three-fourths full of water to a rolling boil. Add the 1 Tbs. salt and the asparagus and cook until nearly tender, 1 to 2 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold running water. Set aside.

In a saucepan over medium heat, bring the broth just to a simmer and then keep it just below a simmer over low heat.

In a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the leek and sauté until softened, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the rice and stir until each grain is well coated with oil and translucent with a white dot in the center, about 3 minutes. Add the wine and stir until it is completely absorbed.

Add the warm broth a ladleful at a time, stirring frequently after each addition. Wait until the broth is almost completely absorbed (but the rice is never dry on top) before adding the next ladleful. Reserve 1/4 cup broth to add at the end.

When the rice is almost tender to the bite but slightly firm in the center and looks creamy, after about 18 minutes, add the asparagus, peas and a ladleful of broth. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the asparagus and peas are heated through and just tender and the rice is al dente, 2 to 3 minutes more. You may find that you did not need all of the broth or that you need more. If more liquid is required, use hot water.

Remove the risotto from the heat and stir in the butter, the cheese and the reserved 1/4 cup broth. Season with salt and pepper. Spoon onto warmed plates and serve immediately. Serves 6.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Essentials of Italian by Michele Scicolone (Oxmoor House, 2007).